A lot of people loved Shrek 2. I wasn’t one of those people. I thought it was funny, just the way slapstick scenarios and fart gags are funny at the time, but hardly qualify as enduring humour. And so the Shrek name would not arrest me – a non-fanatic – at the game store and whisper into my ear that I must have it. If it did, it would mean I should see someone about hearing voices. If you think it might speak that way to you, you illustrate the only circumstance in which Shrek 2 comes highly recommended. (And you should also see someone about hearing voices.)
One of the first things you’ll notice about Shrek 2 is that there are always four heroes onscreen at a time. If you’re playing solo, you’ll control one hero at a time, and the other three will assist gamely, under control of the game’s AI. You’ll be able to switch characters as you play, making sure to utilize them based on how their skills measure with the situations that arise in the course of gameplay. Better still of course, is the ability to play with a friend, or two, or three! The multiplayer aspect has got to be Shrek 2’s greatest draw.
Following closely behind is the actual quality of that cast of in-game players. You’ll start Chapter One with the portly Shrek, his equally portly mate Fiona, the fearful chatterbox Donkey, and the squeaky-voiced martial artist Gingerbread Man. Along the way, some characters will be dropped, and others will join in their place, such as the apple tossing Lil Red. Everyone can fight, everyone has something funny to say at times, and everyone has a unique ability; from Donkey’s blockade bombing Burrow Blast, to Fiona’s magic slowing of time, which makes sticky situations a lot less sticky.
All of this sounds rather inviting until you sit down to play for any stretch of time. It should be said that the Shrek movies were targeted towards, well, everyone: the general public as it were, and not primarily children, as the computer animation medium would seem to suggest. The game then, should share that audience, but an extremely low level of difficulty and a very simplistic approach to gameplay make Shrek 2 a good ‘kids’ game, and I’m not sure that’s what the developers were aiming for. If you have little ones who love everything Shrek, then this is The Ultimate Game (I suppose also that novice gamers who are fans of the movie will similarly revel in the base gameplay on display here).
For the rest of us, more adult fans and non-fans alike, Shrek 2 won’t feel like a substantial gaming experience for one simple reason. Mini-games. You’re drawing a blank? I’ll explain. The game is broken up into thirteen chapters. Finishing each chapter requires that about seven objectives be satisfied. Objectives range from punching and stunning chickens so that they can be booted into a stew, to straight up slugfests with gangs of enemies. Most objectives can be finished off in a few minutes of near-mindless button mashing. The game will indicate when you’ve whipped an objective, and maybe Shrek will say “GREAT JOB GUYS!” for the millionth time. And you’ll think to yourself, “that was mildly entertaining… are there really six more of these… tasks, before I move to the next chapter? Is there nothing else?”
No. There’s nothing else. And so the game plays like a long string of somewhat connected bonus rounds, or mini-games. Fragmenting the game in such a fashion indicates to me that the game was developed with five-year-old ADDers in mind and not the diverse audience the movie thrilled. I’m not being facetious either: someone with a remarkably short attention span would do well to play this game, as it coaxes you slowly along, small task by small task, patting you on the back enthusiastically with each utterly facile advancement.
This isn’t so say that Shrek 2 doesn’t have its high points. After all, it does offer that four-player simultaneous play, making it a great party diversion for say, house guests who aren’t exactly ‘gamers’. Such newbies would have a great time running up the baby steps that is Shrek 2’s challenge. The graphics are crisp and smooth, and the camera is good about not obscuring the action. In the rare instances when it’s not being particularly helpful, you can usually play with the right analog control to zoom about and pan from side-to-side to find a better vantage point. The music is excellent in places, and the voices are charming, offering heaps of authentic personality which should further endear the package to fans. That the characters repeat themselves shamelessly shouldn’t bother you much and might even add to the fun factor as it did for me.
I can recommend Shrek 2 enthusiastically to kids and novice gamers, and marginally to all other fans of the movie. But to true action game aficionados, the game will surely be too simplistic to be sufficiently rewarding or compelling. These gamers should look elsewhere.